Pending European Union legislation would ban using scrap tires in landfills and as fuel for cement kilns, forcing industry to find new end uses for up to 1.5 million metric tons of tires.
According to data from the European Tyre Recyclers' Association, up to 900,000 tons of tires are put into EU landfill sites each year. These will have to be disposed of in some other way once landfilling is banned in 2003.
An additional 300,000 tons annually are scrapped on end-of-life vehicles. When the ELV directive comes into force, these tires also will have to be disposed of in a more environmentally acceptable way, according to Valerie Schulman, secretary-general of the ETRA.
A further blow will be struck in 2008, as old-fashioned cement kilns will be denied permission to take tires once new air quality legislation takes effect. This will add 112,000 tons of tires each year to the disposal pile, according to the ETRA.
Currently in the EU, around 35 percent of tires are landfilled, 23 percent go to energy and 21 percent to recycling, the ETRA said. A further 11 percent are retreaded with 10 percent going for export or re-use.
In 2000-01, the EU disposed of about 1.35 million tons of scrap tires in routes other than landfills-500,000 tons were used for physical recycling, 550,000 tons for energy recovery and 300,000 tons for retreading. In 1995, the largest proportion (39 percent) of recycled tire rubber ended up in sports surfaces and children's playgrounds. While the total volume used in this application has not fallen, the percentage in 2001 was just 33 percent, with that figure expected to fall to 27 percent by 2010.
Growth areas are in civil engineering projects where whole tires can be used as sound barriers, or compressed, tied together and used as construction bales in place of large volumes of subsoil. Other applications in this area include artificial offshore reefs and recovering ground lost to mining and quarrying.
Two-thirds of the total investment in recycling programs is coming from the private sector, and most observers believe this to be the best option, as government intervention tends to distort the real market and often puts independent, commercial operations at a disadvantage to those which obtain government subsidies. In a market that operates on slender margins, such intervention can be counter-productive, Schulman said.
Within the private sector, most investment is coming from large companies. Many of these have been in the business for some time and have the management resources to actively develop their recycling businesses, Schulman said.